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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Organizing Your Teacher Closet on a Budget (part 1: small items)

How many teachers have impeccably clean, organized, streamlined classrooms, but have mountains of disorganized junk just behind their closet doors? It's hard to keep a classroom closet organized. As elementary teachers we have so many little things that we need to have on hand but don't use year-round, and we often need to get them out of sight quickly and end up just throwing things in the closet without having time to figure out where it goes. I've recently come up with a few new tricks for organizing my materials in my classroom closet that have helped me maintain the organization through the last-minute pulling stuff out and putting stuff away, and I'm really excited about how well they're working (and how easy they were to implement)! Today I want to share what I'm using to help organize all of those small items- manipulatives, game pieces, etc- that need to be organized and easily accessible in my closet.

I have a few large shelving units in my closet. I'm grateful to have the storage but big shelves are definitely not generally conducive to storing the types of things I need to keep in my closet, which are mostly small items that will quickly get buried and mixed up on a large shelf. They key with organizing small items in larger spaces, whether that's a drawer, counter space, table, or shelf, is to get smaller containers. The problem is that we as teachers need LOTS of containers if we're actually going to organize all the little things we have, and that can get expensive. Here are some of the cheap items I found that are working perfectly for my closet!

The best things to use, if you can find them cheaply, are drawer organizers. I found mine on super-clearance at Marshall's- any discount store with home items, or dollar stores, or good places to keep an eye out for these (mine were $2 for each set so I spent a total of $6). The nice thing is you get lots of small bins in one, usually in different sizes, and often you can arrange them in whatever configuration best fits your space. I am using these for my composition manipulatives (like lego blocks and mini erasers), solfege stickers, and game pieces for some of the games I use for centers

Another great solution that I just recently came up with is the mini accordion folder that I got at the Dollar Tree (I've seen them at other stores like Walmart as well for the same price). I saw this rainbow one last year and bought it, knowing I would eventually find some use for it (although I didn't expect to wait a whole year to come up with a great way to use it...). I've now organized all of the small card decks that I use for centers and class activities, especially to review note names and instruments (most of which I made myself). I also have decks of cards that I got at the Target dollar spot that show musical instruments and flags from around the world- I use these for simple sorting activities in centers and small groups. I had previously had them stacked up in piles on the shelf, and I always ended up knocking over the piles and getting the decks all mixed up with each other. Now I can quickly slip them into their own slots and pull out just the ones I need without getting them mixed up! 

I bought these dip trays at the Dollar Tree to use for sorting activities (like the ones using the decks or cards I mentioned before, where students sort the instrument cards into families of instruments, or sort the country flags into continents etc). When I use them for sorting, I write the category names on the different compartments with wet erase marker and then wipe the off afterwards so I can reuse them. I recently, however, figured out another great use for them when they are sitting in my closet: sorting individual sets of manipulatives! When I am going to be using composition manipulatives in class, I usually need to have several sets of the same items so individual students or small groups can each have the same set of materials to use. When I'm getting ready for a class using them, I pre-sort the items in the dip tray so that I don't have to dig through the pile of lego blocks searching for one more pink one while I'm teaching. It's also great because I can just bring out the tray for that class and put them back in the closet, still sorted, until the next class when I'm using them again. Once we're done with that set of lessons, I can dump them back into the small drawer organizer with all of the legos so I can quickly find them again next time.

I've been very happy with how well my system is working so far this year, and I hope you've found some inspiration to help you cheaply and easily organize your own classroom materials. If you're curious about the items that I mentioned, check out the other blog posts that I've linked in the descriptions above- I love having these materials to use and they are also cheap and easy to get! :) Have your own organization tricks to share for keeping your classroom closet organized? Let's hear them in the comments!

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  1. When you have multiple decks of cards or sets of cardboard/paper manipulatives--I always numbered each card in the deck (or set) with the same number. That way if the cards got mixed together, it was easy to separate them back into sets. I do the same thing with my grandson's' puzzles.

    1. Great tip! I know other teachers will put a colored dot in the corner for the same purpose.